VP Communities responds to free speech rankings

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Credit: Lauren Kirk

by Jamie Grant

To paraphrase a friend from the Debating Society: “My right to swing my arms ends where your nose begins.” Freedom of speech is core to the very purpose of a university, and of course a wider democratic society.

The ability to challenge and debate ideas and ideals is crucial in developing critical thinking at our higher education institutions.

But this does not carve out space for racism, fascism or hate speech.

The Union utterly rejects giving any legitimacy for these types of views, which by their very nature go against our values of openness, tolerance and inclusivity. Tolerance is not a free pass.

Listening to an opposing view on taxation deserves tolerance. Hearing a view that someone shouldn’t be allowed to exist does not.

Through my time outside the Union, and now as an elected Sabbatical Officer within, I can offer perspective from the varying sides of the debate. I can see the merit of allowing fascists and extremists on stage to make a fool of themselves, to allow their conflicting and paradoxical world views to come crashing down on themselves. I understand the academic and even philosophical arguments for giving them that spotlight, to expose the charlatans to the cold light of day.

But ask yourself: is it worth the harm this process will cause to those targeted by the hate? If you’re in the audience hearing you are a ‘national issue’, or your identity is the root of society’s problems, how will that affect your psyche – your mental health?

Let’s not be so callous as to say giving such speech a platform will do no harm, for the sake of hoisting a flag on our own intellectual hill. All students are welcome in our community, and have the right to live free from hate and harm.

Do we get the definition of this right all the time, in wider society or the Union ourselves? Absolutely not. We’re treading a line in the sand, in today’s weak and unstable world. Are we doing the best we can, to respect and reflect the values which our members subscribe to? You bet your ass we are.

Jamie Grant was responding to an article last week, which found the university came bottom in the table of a free speech survey from SPIKE.

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